CU News Corps tracks gun deaths in Colorado

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At least 104 Coloradans died because of some form of gun violence through the end of April 2013.

Those numbers are based on an analysis by the CU News Corps, which is attempting to track all gun deaths in media reports and by contacting Colorado county coroners’ offices. The News Corps, a class of University of Colorado Boulder journalism students, is publishing information on each gun death in 2013 on a website, www.coloradogundeaths.com.

By documenting these individual deaths, the News Corps hopes to provide meaningful data to inform the discourse concerning gun use in Colorado and the nation. Recognizing and memorializing each victim also is vital to the project’s mission.

Based on data collected so far, suicides made up almost 60 percent — 62 — of the 104 deaths through April 30. Homicides accounted for almost 32 percent, or 33, of the deaths. And eight Coloradans have died in officer-involved shootings, compared with 11 in all of 2011, the most recent year with complete reports. The Boulder County coroner has yet to determine the manner of one other gun death.

But the News Corps numbers likely are incomplete, especially when it comes to suicides. Some county coroners have failed to return calls or emails seeking information on gun deaths. Results from an open-records request seeking information from Adams County, for instance, have yet to be received. Denver reports deaths every three months, while some counties report them every two months.

In 2011, 571 Coloradans died by gunshot in 365 days. That’s only about 1.8 percent of all of Colorado’s 32,566 deaths in 2011, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. But it’s higher than the 482 motor vehicle fatalities the agency recorded that year.

Among this year’s deaths:

■ Christopher Tavares, 21, of Colorado Springs, appears to be the first gun death of 2013. Pueblo police suspected Tavares had a gun early in the morning Jan. 1 and shot him as he tried to flee.

■ Troy Anthony Martinez, 21, was shot multiple times in the abdomen and killed New Year’s Day. It was Denver’s first homicide of 2013.

■ Sonny Archuleta, 33, of Aurora, took three of his relatives hostage prior to a standoff with police Jan. 5. The three hostages, Anthony Ticali, 56, Christopher Ratliffe, 33, and Stacie Philbrook 29, were shot and killed; Archuleta was shot and killed by police.

■ Mayra Perez, 23, shot her three children and then killed herself in their Denver home. Her husband had spent the night at a friend’s house after an argument and found his family members on the morning of Feb. 6. Erick, 2, and Nevaeh, 5, died. Isabel, 3, survived.

■ Kent Calhoun, 52, of Delta, was found dead in his home on March 25 after police arrived responding to a domestic violence call. Calhoun fired shots at police officers, hitting one officer twice. Police entered the home and found Calhoun dead. He is one of four Coloradans who shot themselves after being confronted by police.

■ On April 28, Gerald Rubin, 52, of Durango, fired at police, who fired back. Rubin, whose girlfriend called police because he was suicidal, died. He’s the eighth person shot by law enforcement officers this year.

■ Also on April 28, legendary Denver Colorado concert promoter Barry Fey, 73, killed himself with a gun, sources told the Boulder Daily Camera.

Most homicides occurred in the urban areas of Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs. About 42 percent — 14 — of homicide victims who died by gunshot were younger than 30. About 73 percent were men.

And more than half — 18 — of the 33 homicide victims were black or Hispanic while 29 percent — 10 — were white. In five cases, the ethnicity isn’t known. Only about one quarter of the total Colorado population is black or Hispanic, according to 2011 census data.

Bill Woodward, director of training and technical assistance at the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado, studies and educates the public about the origin of violent behavior. According to the center’s research, the signs for potential violence may be present at a young age.

“Bullies have a 400 percent chance of being picked up for a violent crime,” Woodward said. “Victims are more likely to turn around and offend, especially those subject to bullying.

“Developmental progression shows us that if someone is picked up for a violent crime, it’s easy to assume that person has a history.”

In fact, at least 16 of those killed in homicides and at least five of the eight people killed by law enforcement officers had arrest records with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. So did four men who shot themselves when police came to arrest them.

But the majority of the gun deaths analyzed by CU News Corps were suicides, with most of those reports coming from county coroners. The actual number of suicides likely is higher because of incomplete information from coroners.

In 2011, 77 percent — or 442 — of Colorado gun deaths were suicides. This year so far, they number 62, almost 60 percent.

Suicide victims’ ages ranged from 17 to 88, with an average age of 46. And 51 of the 62 suicides were men — at least 40 of them, about 65 percent, were white men.

In 2011, 75 percent of all gun suicide victims in Colorado were white men.

“The most lethal means of suicide is by firearm,” said Sheri Cole, chairwoman of the American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide. “Men choose more violent means, but not exclusively.”

Cole lost her son to suicide in a car crash in 2009. Since then, she educates Coloradans about suicide prevention, encouraging them to see suicide as a mental health issue that is often connected to depression and other mental illnesses.

“Our mental health care and awareness is so low,” Cole said. “Having a level of sensitivity is gauging where they are at.”

Nikki Wallace, 25, agreed that better mental health care is the one thing that could prevent suicide. She lost her brother, 23-year-old Timothy Wallace, when he turned his gun on himself in February.

“I knew he had tried to commit suicide before. I knew he was depressed, but not in the last year,” Wallace said while participating in a suicide awareness walk at the University of Colorado Boulder on April 28. “There are a lot of mental health issues, but sadly, we don’t have a lot of mental health resources in the United States.”

More than 65 of Timothy’s friends and family attended the walk.

“He was definitely loved,” Wallace said.

Timothy’s family said they didn’t want to “blame the gun instead of the shooter.” Timothy supported Second Amendment rights, his family said, and he “liked” groups such as Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and Guns and Tactics Magazine on Facebook.

Timothy’s mother, Kelli Prine, said suicide is a disease and shouldn’t be stigmatized. She encouraged people to talk openly to people with suicidal thoughts.

“I think the most important thing is to let them know that there’s people who care,” she said.

If you are thinking about suicide, call Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. This is a national phone number that will connect you with a counselor in your area. People in crisis may call Lifeline about substance abuse, economic worries, relationship and family problems, mental and physical illness or whatever they need to talk about.

For more information on Colorado gun deaths in 2013, visit www.coloradogundeaths.com. Email editor@coloradogundeaths.com about any missing information or to contribute information.

The CU News Corps is staffed by students at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Journalism & Mass Communication program.

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